Arthur, King of the Britons
A biography by David Nash Ford
|Arthur, it seems, is claimed as the King
of nearly every Celtic Kingdom known. The 6th century
certainly saw many men named Arthur born into the Celtic
Royal families of Britain but, despite attempts to
identify the great man himself amongst them, there can be
little doubt that most of these people were only named in
his honour. Princes with other names are also sometimes
identified with "Arthwyr" which is thought by
some to be a title similar to "Vortigern".
Geoffrey of Monmouth recorded Arthur as
a High-King of Britain. He was the son of his
predecessor, Uther Pendragon and nephew of King
Ambrosius. As a descendant of High-King Eudaf Hen's
nephew, Conan Meriadoc, Arthur's grandfather, had crossed
the Channel from Brittany and established the dynasty at
the beginning of the 5th century. The Breton King Aldrien
had been asked to rescue Britain from the turmoil in
which it found itself after the Roman administration had
departed. He sent his brother, Constantine, to help.
Constantine appears to have been the historical
self-proclaimed British Emperor who took the last Roman
troops from Britain in a vain attempt to assert his
claims on the Continent in 407. Chronologically speaking,
it is just possible he was King Arthur's grandfather.
Arthur's Breton Ancestry was recorded by Gallet.
Riothamus the King
argues that King Arthur was an historical King
in Brittany known to history as Riothamus, a title
meaning "Greatest-King". His army is recorded
as having crossed the channel to fight the Visigoths in
the Loire Valley in 468. Betrayed by the Prefect of Gaul,
he later disappeared from history. Ashe does not discuss
Riothamus' ancestry. He, in fact, appears quite
prominently in the pedigree of the Kings of DomnonŽe,
dispite attempts to equate him with a Prince of
Cornouaille named Iaun Reith. Riothamus was probably
exiled to Britain during one of the many civil wars that
plagued Brittany. He later returned in triumph to reclaim
his inheritance, but was later killed in an attempt to
expel Germanic invaders. The main trouble with this
Arthurian identification is that it pushes King Arthur
back fifty years from his traditional period at the
beginning of the sixth century (See Ashe 1985).
Welsh tradition also sees Arthur as
High-King of Britain but tends to follow the genealogies
laid down in the Mostyn MS117 and the Bonedd yr Arwr.
These show Arthur as grandson of Constantine but, this
time, he is Constantine Corneu, the King of Dumnonia.
Traditional Arthurian legend records three Kings of
Dumnonia during Arthur's reign: Constantine's son, Erbin;
grandson, Gereint and great grandson, Cado. Nowhere is
there any indication that these three were closely
related to Arthur, nor that he had any claim on the
Dumnonian Kingdom. Nor is their any explanation as to why
a Dumnonian prince would have been raised to the
High-Kingship of Britain. Arthur's connection with this
area of Britain is purely due to his supposedly being
conceived at Tintagel, the residence of his mother's
first husband, and buried at Glastonbury,
the most ancient Christian site in the country.
The Clan Campbell trace their tribal
pedigree back to one Arthur ic Uibar: the Arthur
son of Uther of tradition. Norma Lorre Goodrich uses this
fact to argue that Arthur was a "Man of the
North". This idea was first proposed by the
Victorian Antiquary, W.F.Skene, and there is some
evidence to recommend it, especially the possible
northern location of Nennius' twelve battles. Goodrich
places Arthur's Court at Carlisle. As the capital of the
Northern British Kingdom of Rheged, this seems an
unlikely home for Arthur, who was not of this dynasty.
Prof. Goodrich relies heavily on late medieval literary
sources and draws imaginative conclusions. (See
Goodrich 1986 & Skene 1868).
There was a Northern British
King named Arthwys who lived in the previous generation
to the traditional Arthur. He was of the line of Coel Hen
(the Old) and probably ruled over a large Kingdom in the
Pennines. Many of Nennius' Arthurian Battles are often
said to have taken place in the Northern Britain. These
and other northern stories associated with the
King Arthur may, in reality, have been relating the
achievements of this near contemporary monarch.
King of Elmet
Another Northern British Arthwys was
the son of Masgwid Gloff, probably a King of the Elmet
region of modern West Yorkshire. Nothing is known of this
Prince who was exactly contemporary with the real
King's traditional period. Though it is unlikely that he
held his own kingdom, his exploits may have contributed
to King Arthur's story.
The Scots, though fresh from Ireland,
also used the name Arthur for a Royal Prince. Artur, the
son of King Aidan of Dalriada, was probably born in the
550s. David F. Carroll has recently argued that this man
was the real Arthur, ruling Manau Gododdin from
Camelon (alias Camelot) in Stirlingshire. Details can be
the author's web site. (Carroll 1996)
Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman
identify Arthur as Owain Ddantwyn (White-Tooth), a late 5th century
Prince of the House of Cunedda (more specifically
of Gwynedd). Their arguments, however, are wholly
unconvincing, and contain many unresolved discrepancies.
Owain's son, Cuneglasus (known from Welsh pedigrees as
Cynlas) was among the five Celtic Kings condemned in the
writings of Gildas.
Through a misinterpretation of this account, Keatman
& Phillips imply that Cuneglasus was the son of one
Arth, ie. Arthur. They further claim that he, and
therefore his father, Owain, before him, must have ruled
Powys, as this is the only Kingdom un-reconciled with
Gildas' Kings. However, Cynlas lived at Din
Arth in Rhos. He was not the son of Arth. In
traditional Welsh manner the Kingdom of Gwynedd had been
divided between his father, Owain, who received Eastern
Gwynedd (ie. Rhos) and his uncle, Cadwallon Lawhir
(Long-Hand) who took the major Western portion. During
this period, Cyngen Glodrydd (the Renowned) was ruling
Powys. He was probably the Aurelius Caninus mentioned by
Gildas. (See Phillips & Keatman 1992).
A much simpler and thoroughly more
convincing thesis from Mark Devere Davies suggests that
Arthur may have been Cuneglasus himself. I can do no
better than recommend you to
the author's website.
A King Arthwyr ruled in Dyfed in the
late 6th century. He was the son of King Pedr
ap Cyngar, but little else is known of him. Though he was
probably merely named after the great man, it is possible
that some of his accomplishments may have become attached
to the traditional legend.
Baram Blackett & Alan Wilson have
theorised that the legendary King Arthur was an amalgam
of two historical characters: Anwn (alias Arthun), the
British King who conquered Greece and Athrwys (alias
Arthwys) the King of Glywyssing and Gwent. Arthun was a
son of the British Emperor Magnus Maximus,
who lived in the late 4th century. He is
better known as Anwn (alias Dynod) and his title of King
of Greece is generally thought to be a misreading of
his Latin name, Antonius Gregorius. He actually ruled
much of South Wales. Arthwys of Glwyssing & Gwent is
widely accepted as a seventh century King who lived in
South-East Wales. His home in the traditional Arthurian
region around Caerleon is part of this man's attraction.
Blackett & Wilson argue, not unconvincingly, that he
really lived in the early 6th century and that his
father, King Meurig was called "Uther
Pendragon", a title meaning Wonderful Commander.
They also make the important assertion that Arthur lived,
not in Cerniw (ie. Cornwall), but in Cernyw (ie.
Glywyssing). (See Blackett & Wilson 1980).
St. Arthmael the King
Like Blackett & Wilson, Chris
Barber & David Pykitt identify the King Arthur
with King Athrwys of Glywyssing & Gwent. However,
here the similarity stops, for there are important
differences in the identification of people, places and
events. Their major addition is the supposition that
after Camlann, Arthur/Athrwys abdicated and retired to
Brittany where he became an important evangeliser. He was
known as St. Armel (or Arthmael) and his shrine can still
be seen at St.Armel-des-Boschaux. Their ideas have much
to commend them and make compelling reading. (See
Barber & Pykitt 1993).
It has been suggested, many times over
the years, that King Arthur may have been a descendant of
one Lucius Artorius Castus: a theme most recently taken
up by P.J.F. Turner. Castus was an historical 2nd century
Dalmatian general stationed in Britain who commanded the
Roman auxiliary troops, known as Sarmations, on an
expedition to crush an uprising in Armorica. It is highly
unlikely that the two had any connection with each other.
(See Turner 1993).
Arthur, General of the Britons
12 Battles of King Arthur
Arthur, the Myth
King Arthur in Popular Literature
References to an Historical King Arthur
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